The air smelled different, the neon more vibrant, red and blue against a tropical night sky. There was a different rhythm to the way people walked. I felt out of place on the pavement. I had just escaped from Georgetown University and endless buckets of Kentucky fried chicken. Buckets and buckets of it. I’d eaten three buckets already from trepidation and boredom, knew that if I stayed I’d probably eat three buckets more. It was the 15th August 1981 and it was my first day in America.
Three days before I’d been walking down country lanes with Bernie White and Greg Thomas; two days before I’d thrown my own farewell party with a joint of roast beef almost bigger than the oven. I was packed and ready to go – on a plane for the very first time in my life. Shameful.
I sat next to another exchange teacher called Steven, who had drawn the short straw – depending on how you look at it – and was destined for a school in the lower east side. I tried to make ‘St Agnes Academic School for Girls’ sound tougher than it was, but failed. A young woman sat to my other side. She worked for Johnny Mathis and told hair-raising tales about his proclivity for children. She may have had insight, she may have been mad.
And now we were descending and my eyes began to ache and I no longer gave a shit about Johnny Mathis, or New York, or anything. Nobody had told me about this. My eyeballs were about to burst. I’d be tapping an alien classroom with a giant white stick.
Somehow disaster was averted and before I knew it I was securely ensconced in a sand-coloured room. I remember the University as very sandy, but memory plays tricks. We were welcomed to America in a series of speeches and then invited to devour a mountain of chicken. Soon after, I’d made my escape.
Only now it was time to go back. Ron and Annette, and their five year old daughter, Erica, were due to meet me sometime later that night, which they did.
A knock at the door…and the adventure began.